Both the SAT Subject Tests and Advanced Placement Exams (or AP Exams) can showcase a student’s academic abilities in a specific subject and help them stand out when applying for college. But many families struggle when deciding which of these tests they should take, if any. They differ from the ACT and SAT exams, the standardized admissions tests required by most schools, that are designed to gauge a student’s overall readiness for university studies.

High-achievers often end up taking both in high school. But is it necessary? Is one more important than the other? And which one, if any, is right for my student? Find out how these two exam sets differ and how you can use each test to impress college admissions officers. 

An Overview of Advanced Placement Exams

AP exams consist of both multiple-choice questions and free-response sections. The tests last three hours and are graded on a scale of 1 – 5. 

Traditionally, AP exams are administered after a student has completed the college-level AP class curriculum at school, but students may take an AP exam without completing an AP course. Schools that teach AP courses administer the exam during the school day.

What is the purpose of AP Exams?

The purpose of AP exams is to measure a student’s mastery of specific college-level coursework. AP exams help colleges to determine how successful a student will be in college-level classes. The AP exam score helps colleges evaluate whether or not a student accurately grasped the challenging course material. Many colleges permit students who receive a score of at least 3 or 4 to receive college credit for that course and skip introductory courses at college, meaning tuition savings

When should my student take the AP Exams?

AP exams are only offered once a year in early May.  That means the preceding March and April can be an intensive study period of AP exam prep for those taking more than one exam.

Key Takeaways

  • Not required for college admissions, but students can earn college credit and save on tuition
  • Designed to assess proficiency in college-level curricula
  • AP exams generally last up to 3 hours
  • Includes both multiple choice and free response questions
  • Offered only once a year
  • No penalty for wrong answers
  • Students tested on critical thinking and problem-solving skills versus factual knowledge

An Overview of SAT Subject Tests

SAT subject tests are hour-long multiple-choice exams that are specific to individual subjects. They are graded on a scale of 200 to 800.  Few colleges require these exams for admission, but many of the most selective colleges strongly encourage students to take as many as three SAT subject tests.  

What is the purpose of SAT Subject Tests?

Students can use the SAT subject tests to highlight proficiency in certain subjects that they plan to study in college and subject matter versatility. Colleges often use subject tests to determine where a student’s academic strengths lie. Some may use these tests to advise on course selection and placement. For example, if your student knows they are interested in majoring in Marine Biology, taking the corresponding subject test could improve their chance of gaining acceptance to a selective program. 

When should my student take the SAT Subject Tests?

Students see the best outcomes when they plan ahead and spread tests over sophomore, junior and early senior year to avoid studying for multiple tests at once. SAT subject tests are offered multiple times throughout the year, and students can take up to three one-hour exams on any test date. Take the corresponding subject test as soon as possible after finishing a class in that subject while the material is still fresh. 

Key Takeaways

  • Encouraged for admission into highly selective universities or entry into a specific program of college study
  • Designed to assess mastery of specific high school-level course work 
  • Subject tests are one hour in duration
  • Limited to multiple-choice questions
  • Offered throughout the year 
  • Penalty for wrong answers
  • Students are tested on factual knowledge versus analytical skills

Which One Is Right for My Student? Should They Be Taken?

Students, especially those applying to the most selective schools or programs of study, can take these exams to showcase their depth of knowledge in a given subject.  However, not all college applicants need to take these for admissions to the college of their choice. It should be emphasized that the SAT subject tests assess high school-level knowledge while the AP exams test college level coursework. Check with the university admissions office or a college advisor for the requirements that are specific to your situation. 

Tungsten Prep offers customized solutions for the SAT subject tests and AP exam prep.  Click here to schedule your consultation today and learn how Tungsten Prep will prepare your student to get your best score!